Fun Light Tricks

Yesterday I received a request from a book author for permission to use material from this 2012 post of mine in a new book. After refreshing my memory, I said yes (and decided to repost it). Categorize it under little known facts.


Use polarizers and certain types of materials

To create some interesting effects

A technique for abstract images

Or just some indoor rainy day fun

Camera optional


Cellophane (like you’ve never seen it before)

Several sheets of crumpled cellophane

Sandwiched between two polarizers

Infinite possibilities


If a birefringent material is placed between two polarizing sheets

A world of colorful magic appears

In the image above the material was cellophane


One comes across strange discoveries while copying music from CD’s to the cloud

While waiting for a CD to finish, I noticed a circular polarizer on the desk and

Looked through it at an empty CD case sitting in front of a monitor

Wow! Interesting colors

And – they change as I rotate the polarizer

One thing lead to another (with some Googling) and I learned about

Birefringent materials and

Interesting properties they exhibit with polarized light

Later I looked at some cellophane from CD wrappers on the desk

Wow! Neat! Cellophane is birefringent, too

Crumple up a few sheets and close them in an empty jewel case

Lean it against the LCD monitor face and

Voila – today’s image

________________________________________________________ If you were paying attention you noticed that three elements are needed –

Two polarizers, and

Birefringent material sandwiched between the polarizers

I just described using one circular polarizer and looking at birefringent material in front of a monitor

SO – where’s the 2nd polarizer??

It’s the LCD monitor

LCD monitors emit polarized light BECAUSE they contain polarizing materials

The identical result can be accomplished with two actual polarizers (and no monitor)

Crumple some cellophane and squeeze it between two circular polarizers

and here’s what you’d see

Crumpled cellophane between two circular polarizers

Held up to natural light at a window

________________________________________________________ Here’s a short slide show that shows what these look like as one polarizer is rotated.

Colors shift dramatically

What was once blue may turn to red, green, yellow, ….

With a slight turn of the polarizer

It’s a polarizer KALEIDOSCOPE! (patent pending πŸ˜‰ )

________________________________________________________ The birefringent material’s color depends on

Polarizer position/rotation

Type of Material

Material thickness

Material angle, ….

The artist, Austine, has created art for 40 years using this technique

Her work is mind-blowingly amazing (& beautiful)

She calls her works Polages (from polarized light collage)

Check out her site for an eye-opener

This video is especially captivating

And – if you’re technically inclined there’s

The Physics of Polage

________________________________________________________ Still with me on polarizers?

A quick look at polarizers with no in-between birefringent material.

Top Row – 2nd “polarizer” is the part of the LCD monitor that polarizes light; 1st polarizer is hand held circular polarizer Bottom Row – two “real circular polarizers” Left column – Polarizers are aligned with one another giving the appearance of clear glass Right column – Polarizers are “crossed” (one is rotated 90 degrees from its “clear glass” orientation) Note 1 – When “crossed”, the light coming through the far polarizer is almost total blocked by the near polarizer. This is what polarizers do.

At rotations between 0 & 90 the amount of light changes gradually as the polarizer is rotated

Note 2 – Do you think if you screwed two polarizers together on your lens, you could use this clear glass to opaque glass transition caused by turning one polarizer to create a variable neutral density filter? Think about it. (This is a practical take away from this geeky light-show stuff.) ________________________________________________________ That’s it for today. Tune in tomorrow. You never know what strange topics await. Photography is all about capturing light and light (not to mention the human visual system) is so amazing, surprising, and…. well, who knows what’s coming in future posts. I have a few more volumes to explore (just a small sampling of my style of reading) – Hey, you can go anywhere to learn about routine stuff like exposure, rule-of-thirds, whatever…. – the list never ends. Google any of them and you’ll get 1,000’s of hits (including 100’s by yours truly). However, very few of them tell you fun stuff like how to make images like Monet’s paintings (use the site’s right side-bar search feature if you’re curious). What to write tomorrow??? ________________________________________________________ Subscribe (see sidebar) and don’t miss anything. New posts daily.
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